Closing liquor stores in Baltimore residential neighborhoods could prevent 22 homicides, save $27.5M each year

February 13, 2020

In the wake of the implementation of TransForm Baltimore, which included provisions to remove liquor stores from Baltimore’s residential neighborhoods, new research from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Johns Hopkins University shows that closing 80 of these liquor stores could prevent 22 homicides and save $27.5 million each year.

Studies consistently have found a relationship between the number and concentration of alcohol outlets (places that sell alcohol) and violent crime, both across the country and in Baltimore City. However, this is the first study to predict specific outcomes linked with possible zoning options for alcohol outlets in Baltimore City.

Researchers compared three potential policies: an across-the-board reduction of alcohol outlets throughout the city (decreasing the number of outlets by roughly 20%); closing 80 non-conforming liquor stores (that is, those in residential neighborhoods); or closing the 117 taverns not operating in compliance with the city liquor board’s definition of a tavern.

A fourth option estimated the impact of closing both the 80 non-conforming liquor stores and the 117 taverns simultaneously. After estimating the potential consequences of each policy option, the researchers used existing estimates of the direct cost of homicides to determine the costs associated with each policy.

“If we’re going to end the homicide epidemic, we need to follow the science,” said Daniel Webster, ScD, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research. “This study shows how worthwhile changing the city’s alcohol environment could be.”

Of the four policies examined, a 20% city-wide reduction of alcohol outlets was associated with a reduction of 51 homicides in one year. Closing the 80 non-conforming liquor stores was associated with a decrease of 22 homicides in the same time period. Closing the “sham” bars/taverns had the smallest impact, resulting in one fewer homicide.

In their modeling, the study authors accounted for a wide range of known influences on homicide, including population density, percent of population younger than 35 years old, drug arrests, median annual household income in the census block group, racial and ethnic diversity, gun stores, zoning, vacant properties and renter-occupied housing.

They also tested to see whether some other unknown factor could instead explain the association they found between the alcohol outlets and homicide. For that to happen, that mystery unknown variable would need to be more strongly related to both the alcohol outlets and homicides than all the factors that were already being assessed — a highly unlikely possibility.

Over the course of discussions related to implementing TransForm Baltimore — the city’s recent zoning rewrite — the number of non-conforming liquor stores that would be required to change their operations, close or relocate has steadily dropped. In 2013, the Citizens Planning and Housing Association identified 105 non-conforming liquor stores, 95 of which were still open when this study began in 2016. Since then, at least 19 non-conforming liquor stores have been rezoned, removing the requirement under the new zoning code that they relocate.

Dr. Pamela J. Trangenstein

Dr. Pamela J. Trangenstein

“Our study suggests that granting these exceptions may have reduced the potential public health benefits of the new zoning code,” said lead study author Pamela Trangenstein, PhD, assistant professor of health behavior at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health. “Addressing the glut of liquor stores can prevent homicides and other violent crimes.”

The study was published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs on February 13.

Other co-authors on “The Violence Prevention Potential of Reducing Alcohol Outlet Access in Baltimore, MD” include: Raimee Eck, PhD; Yi Lu, PhD; Jacky M. Jennings, PhD; Carl Latkin, PhD; Adam J. Milam, MD, PhD; Debra Furr-Holden, PhD; and David H. Jernigan, PhD.

This study was conducted at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and was partially supported by funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention U48DP005045. It also was supported by Award Numbers T32AA007240, Graduate Research Training in Alcohol Problems: Alcohol-related Disparities and P50AA005595, Epidemiology of Alcohol Problems: Alcohol-Related Disparities from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the Department of Health and Human Services, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, the National Institutes of Health or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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